Permanent Cap for BP Well Still a Ways Off

It may be days or even weeks before BP is able to permanently plug the Deepwater Horizon oil well. The leak is sealed — but scientists say putting a permanent plug on it could damage the well and create more problems. Laurie Johnson reports.
The cap that's in place on the Deepwater Horizon well is not a permanent fix. Professor Don Van Neiwenhuise is director of Professional Geoscience Programs at the University of Houston. He says BP is taking the cautious approach as they determine if the seal is stable enough to withstand further construction.

"It's sealed now and it's not something I think to worry about. The only thing to worry about it the longterm reliability of the seal that they have. And the other thing is to make sure that before they try to do any remediation to improve that, that they take slow, careful and well-thought out steps. And that's what they're doing right now."

One of the problems is determining if there are any gaps or pockets in the pipeline where it's not completely filled with cement.

"If flow is there and pressure is allowed to build up over time it's possible that it could bleed out at what's called a hangar seal at the top, it's the casing hangar and it will more or less burp and allow the pressure to come out. If that pressure is too great then there could be a problem at the surface. And if that were to happen it would happen down the road you know five or ten years from now really."

Van Neiwenhuise says there are a couple of options, such as putting another blowout preventor on the well or pumping cement into the pipe. BP officials are still trying to determine which approach is the safest. Once they do pick a solution, it will take at least a week before the well is killed for good.

Laurie Johnson, KUHF News.
Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...